Rally of Portugal preview

For the first time this season the World Rally Championship will feature a full house of seven teams as the flat-out series moves to round four, the TAP Rally of Portugal

Rally of Portugal preview

Subaru star Richard Burns will start the event on a high having blitzed the opposition in Kenya less than two weeks ago while British rival Colin McRae will recall how he wiped out the opposition within the first three stages to win this event last year.

Burns will have the new Subaru Impreza in action for the first time and the team is highly confident that it will set new standards of competitiveness.

McRae, by contrast, has only finished one event since last year's victory and will be looking for better things when the event starts on Thursday evening.

After the variable conditions of Monte Carlo, the snow and ice of Sweden and the destruction derby that is the Safari, Portugal represents what most consider to be the first true 'European' style event of the year and the best guide to likely form over the remaining 10 rounds.

Mitsubishi was wiped out in Kenya and will be eager to get back on the winning trail to keep four-times World Champ Tommi Makinen ahead in the drivers title hunt and to regain the lead in the manufacturers series, lost to Subaru in Kenya.

Peugeot is growing in strength with each event and must be considered a possible winner but this is the final event for the original 206WRC before a much more highly developed Evolution 2 model makes its debut in Catalunya at the end of the month.

All the teams have been hard at work in the past few weeks, testing cars for Portugal and the other Iberian event, Catalunya.

Most have found revisions to the set-up and SEAT is hoping that electronic work will go some way to papering over the cracks of its traction difficulties.

It won't be until much later in the year that major revisions can be completed within the regulations and Didier Auriol will do well to repeat his podium finish from Kenya this time out.

This is one event he's never won although he's been second on three occasions.

Skoda is likely to come back down to earth with a bump after its spectacular points finish in Kenya.

The Octavia is accepted as a strong car but it also lacks the ultimate 'edge' to run with the big boys.

Nevertheless, Skoda has taken points on each of its last three outings which is more than can be said by most...

Hyundai missed the Monte Carlo and Safari rallies but is now full-time on the championship trail with the new Accent WRC.

Alister McRae and Kenneth Eriksson need more miles in the car before a podium finish is likely but evidence suggests the car has great potential. Expect another close battle with SEAT.

Portugal offers the crews a tantalising variety of road conditions from fast and flowing to twisty and rough.

The stages can be sandy and power-sapping or treacherously glutinous if the weather turns wet.

The local fans are absolutely mad for it and they usually get a spectacular show. But picking a winner...wait until Sunday.

The event runs from Thursday March 16 to Sunday March 19.

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